The Domovoi

By Kevin Snow (Twine; IFDB)

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Cover art: view from the inside of a dark hut

Your friend is a storyteller, and she’s polishing her latest work about a domovoi, or protective house spirit, lingering in a guttered hut. You are her audience.

The Domovoi is a game about storytelling. Like Whom the Telling Changed, you get to influence events in the story, but where the PC works against an antagonist in Whom the Telling Changed, here the story is a collaborative work. Your friend may express doubt or satisfaction at your choice, and the PC’s perspective outside of the story in the making allows for in-universe commentary. The unnamed NPC in Domovoi has her own views, after all, and if you suggest something with which she disagrees, she will probably slant the story to include that, but make her feelings known.

This game is also a pleasure to play, not least because it is styled attractively. Like Beneath Floes, it features illustrations that set the mood and whose colour schemes demarcate changes in perspective.

Perhaps true to oral tradition, the story you help to tell can vary between play-throughs, depending on the choices you make. The game didn’t dwell on the meta aspect much, though, focusing instead on the meat of the story.

In summary: The Domovoi is an introspective work which taps into Slavic folklore, with a lively NPC and a story within a story. Recommended, if nothing else than for its luscious illustrations and sound effects.

weird tape in the mail

By Adam Dickinson (@angrygeometry). (Twine; IFDB; play here)

weird tape in the mail was highlighted by Porpentine in her interview with Emily Short as featuring lots of art and ‘piss ethos’, so of course I had to check it out. This game features .gifs and animations with flashing effects.

You found a tape at your door last night. Your uncle is the only one who has a tape machine.

One of the most striking features about this game is the all-lowercase, no-punctuation, almost conversational or stream-of-consciousness writing style, similar to some of Porpentine’s work, which could be dubbed ‘flattened affect’. It suggests the weariness that comes with routine and less-than-pleasant living conditions. The writing sometimes feels rough – it wasn’t written necessarily to be pleasing on the ear – but definitely not without thought. The art adds to the sense of tiredness with the same hand-drawn (or mouse-drawn, perhaps), scribbly quality of Nekra Psaria.

The game hints at consumerism and the idea of worth vs. value as a theme, but this was never explored beyond allusions and exaggerated statements. I found this a pity! It could have served as a backbone to the ideas floating around in the game.

weird tape in the mail is a strange, strange game, verging on hallucinatory, but it never really delved into any one idea far enough to use the strangeness to its advantage.

A Bucket Filled with Sand

By A C Godliman. (Twine; IFDB; play here)

A Bucket Filled with Sand is a short adventure in building a city. In a hundred years a dragon will come, but for now, you start with the simplest of building materials: a bucket filled with sand.

This game presents simple binary choices, each of which build up your sand-kingdom. You can choose between war or negotiation; between building trust and pre-empting treachery. I found it interesting how the writing maintained the tone of detached resignation throughout – even the expansion of your empire is never truly counted as a victory, but rather an opportunity for more problems to arise.

What really makes the game is its illustrations. They give a visual portrayal of your budding kingdom, as it grows from just one castle to a veritable empire. The arrival of the dragon also served as a rather effective pacing device, giving the story a sure structure, and tying the story up at the end rather neatly.

One grouse – and my main one – is that there are lots of typos. Given that some thought appears to have been put into this, it just feels so out of place. Otherwise, though, A Bucket Filled with Sand is a melancholic, highly branching game which touches on the impermanence of human endeavours.

Dead Cities

As you can tell, I’m working through a very old and very big backlog of ‘Games I said I Would Play But Never Did’. This one is by Jon Ingold (Parser; IFDB).

The Arkwright mansion is before you, a solicitor who has been tasked to retrieve a handful of valuable books to rescue the elder Arkwright from financial ruin. When you enter, though, it’s clear something’s not right with Arkwright…

It’s all very Lovecraft, inspired as it is by Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book #67:

An impression—city in peril—dead city—equestrian statue—men in closed room—clattering of hooves heard from outside—marvel disclosed on looking out—doubtful ending. (Source)

Cosmic terrors, eldritch books, powerful magical artefacts: this game has it all. The writing is first-rate. It’s atmospheric, using tiny details in the surroundings to inspire unease and dread. There is plenty of flexibility in the commands that can be entered – a thoughtful move on Ingold’s part – as well as in the story. Although the interface suggests an appropriate command in the beginning half of the story, it’s possible to do something which would make sense in real life but does not progress the story.

The interface is also interesting, featuring multiple panels: one for inventory, one for suggested commands and one for story art. It’s an interesting feature which makes the game that much more player-friendly, especially for those new to IF.

Dead Cities may be short (about 20-30 minutes from start to finish), but it’s a treasure trove of interesting writing.